This past weekend, I attended the Sustainability Preparedness Expo in Spokane, Wash. This event was designed to bring together speakers and vendors for the purpose of addressing concerns about the future of our economy and to assist people in becoming more self-sufficient with food, water, medicine and sanitation.
Those who pooh-pooh the need to prepare for hard times have evidently never been to a preparedness expo. If you go, don’t just talk to vendors or speakers; talk to the ordinary people walking around. See the lines wrapping around the block to get in. Watch the interest of folks learning about gardening, canning, food storage and other issues. Every workshop was packed, every booth was swamped, every seminar was full. People were hungry for information on how to make themselves less vulnerable to societal disruptions.
Why? Because deep down, these people know all is not right with the world. There are too many tremors denoting cracks in the economy, too much saber rattling from unstable nations and too many politicians collectively working to turn America from the USA into the USSA.
In short, while life goes on in a pretty ordinary sense on the surface, there’s a tension in the air, a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. People are worried and anxious. They are willing to do what they can to lessen the blow of circumstances that might increase hardships or suspend services.
Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a whole lot to strip away the feeling of everyday normalcy. How long could you sustain your current lifestyle if you lost your job? How much savings do you have to get you through a prolonged period of unemployment? How quickly would you be required to depend on others to support you with the most basic of necessities if hard times hit? And that’s assuming we don’t face larger societal disruptions such as a loss of power or the collapse of the dollar.
If catastrophic events happen, who will feed you? How will you keep warm? Where will you get potable water? These were the issues visitors to this expo were clamoring to learn.
At a gardening workshop I attended, the speaker said something startling: “Humans are the only species on the planet too ignorant to feed themselves.”
Wow. I realized he was right. Every living thing on the planet knows what it takes to get food. If they don’t, they die. But we’ve “evolved” past the need to grow or raise anything we consume. Many of us have become too lofty, advanced, and civilized to be caught with our hands in the soil or our feet in a cow patty. Let someone else do the dirty work. We’re too smart to feed ourselves.
“After about World War II,” said the gardening speaker, “most of us lost the intergenerational knowledge and wisdom to grow or raise our own food, and turned this critical component over to mega-corporate ‘experts.’”
These experts provide us with genetically modified foods and prepackaged meals full of unpronounceable ingredients, year after year, decade after decade. It’s gotten to the point where there are entire generations of people who have no idea where eggs and meat come from, who are suspicious when they see a dusting of dirt on a potato (if they even buy a potato in the first place over frozen French fries) and who think raw milk will kill them. These are the people whose eyes widen with wonder the first time they taste homemade bread or pick a sun-warmed strawberry … because they’ve never had real food before.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully cognizant that our advances in food growing and distribution has allowed millions of people to leave behind the hard work of farming and allowed us to flourish in science, medicine and technology. But there is a price. In the rush to embrace every new technology and to celebrate every electronic and chemical marvel that makes our lives easy, sanitary and usually painless, we have lost a vast body of knowledge. We have forgotten the accumulated wisdom of 5,000-plus years of survival in three generations.
To put it bluntly, our ignorance – our inability to feed ourselves – may well kill us. There are hundreds of thousands of dedicated farmers across America whose sole purpose is to provide you with food – but if they’re unable to get their products to you because of a fuel shortage, a bad storm, or a strike, what will you do? I mean, honestly think about it – what will you do?
Today we “feed” ourselves by working for a paycheck and exchanging that paycheck for groceries. The distance between the beginning and the end of the food chain has lengthened until people at the end of the chain have no idea what happens at the beginning or the middle. People never learn where an egg comes from, how cheese is made, how bread is baked, or how corn is grown. And when they DO learn, they’re often appalled at conditions or processes that were perfectly natural to their grandparents.
Instead people buy “food” so altered from its original state that it can hardly be classified as edible. And that, I believe, is why the gardening workshop was so well-attended. People are tired of the artificial. They long to embrace and participate in the original. But collectively, we’ve forgotten how.
Not everybody used to grow their own food, of course. People have always specialized. But everybody knew everyone who grew their own food. People knew their local butcher, baker and candlestick maker. They knew which farmer raised dairy cows and which farmer raised turnips (often the same farmer). They knew where to go to get their eggs and strawberries. Do you?
Recently, a friend said, “Modern first-world people are less equipped to handle a grid-down situation than most third-world people.” He’s right. Third-world people are used to handling their basic needs under primitive conditions. But take away our lights or our cars or our grocery stores, and most of us would be dead within a month. Or less.
We need to re-learn how to feed ourselves, just like every other species on the planet. People who can fend for themselves are a lot less likely to want or allow government intrusion in their lives. They’re less vulnerable, less in need of handouts and less defenseless in the face of a crushing economy. They’re a lot less worried about what the future may bring. They are “clothed in strength and dignity and can laugh at the days to come,” to paraphrase Proverbs 31.
That’s why I was so pleased to see the hearty attendance at the preparedness expo. People, it seems, are becoming less ignorant.